Wadi Hajar is the newest neighborhood freed by the Iraqi forces (Institute for the Study of War)
The Iraqi forces were still fighting over the initial areas of southeast Mosul. After several days of tough fighting the Golden Division finally freed the Wadi Hajar neighborhood on March 3 directly north of the Ghazlani Camp. The unit was then moving east towards the Tigris River to connect with the police units there. Dawas was still contested after it was unofficially declared liberated on February 28, and so was Mansour. On March 4 operations had to be halted because of bad weather and rain. The Islamic State took advantage of the poor conditions to launch a series of counterattacks. The insurgents are also using more suicide bombers. One army officer said there were at least 10 per day. Like east Mosul the going has been hard. Despite all the Iraqi propaganda that IS is a defeated force it is putting up a stiff defense. The question as always is how long can it sustain it before it breaks.
Several and Hashd divisions are moving on southwest Mosul. The town of Damerji was taken on February 28, but it was not declared completely cleared until March 3. This is all rural areas, which IS traditionally does not to depend because they lack the manpower, are out in the open, and would be exposed to air strikes. Around Badush however the insurgents have dug tunnels into the mountains. These Iraqi forces have two jobs. One is to cut off routes to the west of Mosul, and the other is to open another front once it reaches the city.
Farther to the west the future of Tal Afar is still up in the air. A Hashd spokesman blamed Prime Minister Haider Abadi for delaying the attack on the village. He claimed that there was pressure from local politicians as well as regional powers to stop the Hashd from seizing the town. Originally, the Hashd were going to seize the town, then Turkey complained so vociferously that Baghdad agreed to have the army and police liberate Tal Afar. That never happened, so National Security Adviser Falah Fayad stated that the Hashd would be given the job. That was reversed again. This back and forth is caused by a number of reasons. First, the pro-Iran Hashd groups want to free the town because there are many Shiite Turkmen there and also because it would control the routes to Syria and given its patrons in Tehran a direct land route across Iraq to Syria. Second, Turkey does not want that to happen to block Iran’s advances and because it sees itself as the protector of Iraq’s Turkmen. Third, Ninewa politicians do not want the Hashd to have a presence in the province either.
The Islamic State used chemical weapons while shelling east Mosul. According to doctors from the International Red Cross 12 people were injured in this attack, and said that it looked like a blister agent was used. Previously, on March 1 suspected chlorine shells were used in another mortar attack on the eastern section of the city. IS has been known to work on chemical weapons before, and alleged stocks and laboratories have been captured in the past. It has also deployed chlorine before, but this appeared to be a far more dangerous agent.
Civilians remain the major victims in east Mosul. The Islamic State executed 9 people on March 3 and 7 families on March 4. IS has been killing people on charges of cooperating with the government and for having phones. Iraqi artillery has also been blamed for 12 fatalities and 4 injured.
The new Mosul campaign has set off a huge wave of displacement. The Interior Ministry had 14,000 fleeing the city on March 3 alone. That same day the Norwegian Refugee Council reported that 30,708 people had left west Mosul since February 19 with most of those coming in the last week. Most of these displaced are going to camps south of Mosul, but those are just about at capacity, so people are now being bused to Kurdistan. The Hamam al-Alil camp for example is running short of water and other services. The Displacement Ministry issued a statement criticizing the United Nations for failing to meet these people’s needs. Baghdad didn’t have the money or capacity to deal with this issue either, which was why the government asked people to stay in Mosul. The intensity of the fighting and the severe shortages in west Mosul are reasons why so many people are exiting compared to the eastern half.
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